couple bond unless her husband took a more active role in siding with his spouse.
B (Respondent #5) described how co-parenting her stepdaughter negatively impacted her bond with her husband. B attempted to communicate with her husband about teaching social graces to his youngest child, who lived with them half of the time. She had helped her 8-year-old stepdaughter host a cookie-decorating party, in order to meet children in their neighborhood. B observed that “My stepdaughter is the only one who never said a word of thanks. I mentioned it to my husband…he felt bad and says his kid is a monster. He thinks I must think she is an ‘ungrateful, evil child.’” This illustrated the couple’s extreme difficulty in sharing the stepdaughter’s upbringing, and the challenges to their couple bond, as they polarized around his child’s discipline. B’s attempts at input about her stepdaughter provoked an extreme response from her husband, as he believed B perceived his child as a “monster” and “evil child.” B stated, answering a direct follow-up question, that her husband’s strong reactivity was connected directly to their “step” status. This is consistent with her observation that their efforts at stepparenting felt remarkably different from bio-parenting.
In each case, the respondent’s extreme language signaled irresolvable problems, a marker for attachment injury. Most could be related specifically to aspects of stepfamily formation, including stepparenting, financial stressors and communication difficulties, accompanied by perceived lack of the spouse’s emotional support. The discord usually occurred regarding biological parent/child coalitions.
Strong Disagreements. The respondents each described strong divisiveness that appeared in the interviews as fights, arguments or disagreements. Their contexts suggest potential attachment injury, and seemed organized around stepfamily problems. At times, their disagreements were not clearly rooted in “step” problems, and this will be noted in the descriptions.
T (Respondent #1) considered the negative effects, which she called “grief”, of stepparenting on her marital relationship. She noted that their youngest, who is her biological son adopted by her husband, “takes personal glory in attempting to pit [husband] and myself against one another.” She confirmed and collectively credited all of the children with attempting to “drive a wedge” (interviewer’s phrase) between herself and her husband.
Guilt and blame created an inescapable vortex for T (Respondent #1) and her husband. This couple argued about co-parenting, blamed the stepchildren’s biological mother for increasing the stepchildren’s anxiety when they told her about it, felt guilty when the stepchildren became anxious, which primed further co-parenting arguments with her husband. T described “…a lot of bitterness that had festered over the years,” and she connected this to the fact that she and her husband “…never had the guts to be honest about how we felt and take a stand to our kids or ex. We didn’t need a real reason to argue.”
This couple had to learn to “talk through our problems without arguing in front of the kids.” It is unclear whether or not she was referring to “step-related” arguments; however, when asked further about not arguing in front of the children, she said that when her stepchildren knew of their arguments, they reported them to their biological mother, which made the children feel guilt and anxiety. T believed their conflict